The government plans to install speed limiters on all minibuses after a string of fatal accidents, including one in which a minibus ran into the back of a truck travelling in the same direction between Yuen Long and Tuen Mun on July 25, resulting in the deaths of four people. Au Sui-hing, 59, who drove a minibus for 30 years and now operates his own company running minibuses and tour coaches, supports the measure. He remembers his days in the industry and discusses its problems:
'Before I was a minibus driver, I was unemployed. One day in 1973 I saw a recruitment notice for minibus drivers and decided to apply. That was in 1973 when there were about 5,000 minibuses in the city. I drove red-topped minibuses for many years and have witnessed great changes in this industry.
'In the early 1970s, I drove 14-seat minibuses without air conditioning. It was very hot in summer and cold in winter. I installed an electric fan at the rear but still sweated while driving in summer. Air conditioning appeared at the end of the 1970s.
'I have driven most of the routes in the New Territories and Kowloon. There have been ups and downs. One day in the 1970s I took 14 passengers from Yuen Long to the Happy Valley racecourse charging each one about HK$20. When we arrived all the passengers got out and rushed into the racecourse without paying. I was very angry and unhappy.
'In the 1970s, I could earn about HK$300 day. The operating cost was less than HK$100, with HK$40 as minibus rent and fuel costs. But the business has been hit hard in recent years. My earnings fell by about 70 per cent due to the increase in operating costs like minibus rent and fuel price. I stopped driving minibuses in 2001 and started operating a tourist bus company as I found I could earn more money that way. I also operate a minibus route from Yuen Long to the urban areas. But sometimes I miss my old job and drive one of my buses for a while during my free time.
'I think the main reason for the increase in minibus accidents is the increase in the number of vehicles on the roads.
'Competition from other forms of public transport is another factor.
'This may push some drivers to drive as many rounds as they can in order to earn more money. When the working hours of drivers are longer, the risk of accidents may be higher.
'But I think installing alarms in minibuses that sound when the speed limit is exceeded is useless. It is not an effective way of keeping the minibus at a safe driving speed and it could affect the operator's driving by distracting him or her with the loud sound. If the driver loses attention while driving, this may cause more accidents.
'I think the most effective way is to install a machine inside the minibus to limit its speed to, say, 100km/h. This way is much better and more practical than setting the speed alarm and black box recorder inside the minibus compartment.
'I think it is better to have seat belts installed in minibuses than not, as they can safeguard passengers, especially children. But if there is an accident, the seat belt may indirectly cause a passenger's death. I recall one accident in the 1980s when a minibus driver was trapped in his seat by his seat belt and burned to death at the scene.
'I heard of a video clip on YouTube apparently showing a passenger-laden red-topped minibus driving on a footpath in Mong Kok to get past a traffic jam. This behaviour affects the image of the minibus industry.
'Minibus drivers cannot just worry about our own interests. We are professional drivers and should be responsible for what we do. We should have our ethics.
'If we are sick, we cannot drive. After drinking alcohol, we cannot drive. We should also be polite to the passengers.
'I think the government should communicate more with the industry to make the business environment better. I also want the government to formulate policy to open more restricted zones for us to decrease tough competition in the industry.'